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What We Learned: Downballot Days of Summer What We Learned: Downballot Days of Summer

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What We Learned: Downballot Days of Summer

-- Republican leaders are attempting to shift the focus from social issues, which, despite energizing the conservative base, have not tracked well with moderate and independent voters. In remarks this week to House Republicans, Speaker John Boehner sought to return the narrative to economic concerns, reiterating his frequent contention that the fall elections will be about jobs. Not all members of the Republican conference are on board, however; some are pushing for a sustained effort to advance conservative positions on social issues, even as their leaders and many constituents argue for the primacy of economic issues. -- What to make of the dissonance between public polls in next week's Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election and a slew of private polls released by Democrats to show they're still in the ballgame in the Badger State? Independent polls have Walker leading by between 5-10 percentage points, while no fewer than five polls conducted for Barrett's campaign or other pro-Barrett organizations have Walker's lead between zero and 5 points. Wisconsin Democrats have been desperate to change the narrative of Walker's survival that had been built by the independent polling. So what's behind the difference between the polls? Some have suggested that Democrats are goosing the numbers, possibly by asking questions before the Barrett-Walker matchup that make respondents more likely to choose the Democrat. But campaign pollsters from both parties rightly point out that no respectable polling firm would allow results from primed respondents or an informed or post-message ballot to be represented as an initial matchup; helping move the needle toward Barrett a few points is not worth to potential damage to their respective reputations. More likely, the difference between the public and private, Democratic polling is due to a combination of chance (margin of error) and different ideas about the composition of the electorate. Democrats are hopeful that voters who turn out next Tuesday will more closely resemble the electorate that handed the state's 10 electoral votes to Obama in 2010 than swept Republicans Walker and Sen. Ron Johnson into office two years later. Tuesday's vote will settle that argument. -- Paid media buys are scrutiny closely by strategists and reported widely by the media. But don't overlook the power of earned media. Not a single paid spot has been run in Massachusetts about Warren's Native American heritage controversy. But the near daily coverage of the mess in the local papers and on local TV is invaluable to Republicans who want to see the tussle keep her off message. And just look at the four-minute anti-Obama video Fox News ran this week, which the liberal watchdog group Media Matters estimated to be worth about $96,000. -- The Hispanic population has fueled Texas's growth, but it'll be another cycle at least before the Lone Star State has more Hispanic representatives in Congress. Some of that has to do with unfavorable redistricting, and some of it has to do with Hispanic voters splitting or even overwhelmingly supporting Anglo candidates in the House primaries last Tuesday. But it also has to do with poor rates of turnout. In Texas's 33rd District, Domingo Garcia hoped that having a viable Hispanic on the ballot would turn out more Hispanic voters than ever in a district where they have a strong plurality. Instead, he got 25% of the Democratic primary vote and a tough summer runoff. There are other issues, too, but Hispanic primary turnout is a major barrier to the growth of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. -- If the cases of Thad McCotter and Brad Harriman weren't illustrative enough, Chris Donovan's campaign for Connecticut's 5th District is another example of how demographics and geography alone can't forecast an election outcome. Federal authorities arrested the state House speaker's former finance director and charged him with attempting to cover up roughly $20,000 worth of questionable campaign contributions, leaving plenty of questions about what Donovan knew. As the Hartford Courtant's Rick Green pointed out, what should be a relatively safe Democratic seat provides a possible opening Republican-endorsed candidate Andrew Roraback. Campaigns matter and so do candidates.

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